When dealing with betrayal, it can be difficult to understand why people cheat — but awareness and understanding just might be the cornerstones to healing.
If love is a lovely and temperate summer’s day, then cheating is a crooked dagger. A stab from this sharp and steely blade of betrayal is as painful as it is shocking—and it can be so very hard to understand.
How can someone who was your best friend have become your heart’s worst enemy? How can a person go from being someone so good to being someone so bad?
Those questions do have answers, but they’re not the ones we want to hear—that’s because our partner isn’t as bad as we thought. And, like it or not, we may not be the perfect partner we believed ourselves to be.
Here are a few common catalysts for a cheater’s behavior:
They’re in a Circle of Cheaters
The people we spend our time with have an influence on us—and science backs this. Licensed psychotherapist M. Gary Neuman surveyed 200 male cheaters and found that 77 percent of them had friends who were unfaithful. Now we can remark by saying “Wrong is wrong,” but that doesn’t address the psychology behind these situations—and that’s everything.
“Red flag behavior” is always a shock to the system, but only initially. When a future cheater sees them on a regular basis, the shock dulls. And as these shocking behaviors become familiar, it becomes a normal, everyday sight. What’s more, the longer we’re around it and the more we get to know the “perpetrator,” the more we see the story and rationalization that drives their situation. We may still keep the cheater’s behaviors neatly filed under “wrong,” but now our eyes have been opened to a new way of behaving.
When we first met our partners, life was so ridiculously blissfully wonderful. Our happiness was at an all-time high and we felt like we could take on the world. Fast forward to now, and you may be wondering if you’re even the same people. A relationship that was once adventurous and fun is now mundane and painfully predictable. Sure, this shift from puppy love to “real” relationship is helpful and productive, but there’s a serious deficit of fun and spontaneity.
We can say that we’re just too busy and there’s no time, but there should always be time for love and laughter. The whole point of having a partner is to have someone to enjoy your life with! You’re supposed to take happiness and expand on it so that joy, security, and contentment reach explosively-beautiful levels. And while that might sound over-the-top and unbelievable, there’s an obvious point to take away: people get into relationships as a way to add to life, not to detract from it.
We can pin the boredom or unhappiness on our partner, but if we are feeling dissatisfied ourselves, that’s a bright red flag that love and happiness are no longer our priority. If happiness was a priority, we’d be taking action instead of googling “signs they’re cheating” and feeling sorry for ourselves.
They Have Secrets
This sounds quite juicy, but that’s not at all what I’m getting at. The secrets I’m talking about aren’t about porn addictions or office crushes. I’m talking about secrets of the heart and soul.
Every single person on this planet is carrying baggage and f’d up “wiring” from their life experiences. When people are hurt, they build defense mechanisms to protect their vulnerabilities. Even the cheaters that seem tough, driven, and confident are probably beating themselves up over painful insecurities. Hurt people will hurt people. They may seem like they don’t care about anything, but you don’t have to watch the news to understand the chaos that can be caused by desperation and fear.
Cheaters get criticized for their “jerky behavior” both before and after they’ve cheated, but there’s a reason they’re acting like jerks. They’re hurt—by us. The notion may feel improbable (even impossible), but if we survey the cheating partner about whether or not they feel hurt or angry with us, I’ll bet on some level they have a resounding “Yes!” in their hearts.
Whether or not we intended to hurt our partner doesn’t matter; their heart likely aches as much as our own.
This is where things get difficult because our emotions are the driving force behind everything we’re compelled to do. The pain of feeling hurt and unloved can make a person abandon the duty of their commitment to a relationship. Couple this with the influence of cheating associates, and heartache can provoke even the best of people to walk down a path they’d never considered before.
Remember when I mentioned our other half is hurting like we are? Well, just as we’re blaming our partner for our pains, they are just as surely blaming us for theirs.
In a survey led by psychologist Julia Omarzu, a substantial number of participants claimed their shift from monogamy had been agreed upon between both them and their significant other. Moreover, they believed their cheating was completely justified.
We can argue that these partners were making assumptions that weren’t based on direct communication or undeniable facts, but there is one cold hard fact of cheating: there’s almost always a relationship deficit.
No matter how hard we think we’re trying or how good we believe we’re being, a good-partner-turned-cheater surely has needs that aren’t being met. Does that mean we aren’t trying our best? No. But it does mean our ideas regarding what’s loving and unloving don’t match up with our partner’s.
We’re Failing as Partners
If a partner is going outside the relationship for sex, then sex must be a problem within the relationship. Right?
Well, a study by Dr. David Schnarch of 20,000 coupled participants found that only 26 percent had sex once a week. The majority averaged twice a month or less. Now compare this to Neuman’s research which suggests that 50 percent of men and 40 percent of women are guilty of cheating we may be able to connect some dots.
That said, if you’re assuming the issue is the sex itself, you’re only partially correct. Lack of sex between a couple is more a sign of a troubled relationship than the cause of relationship trouble.
Women are known to “hold out” in bed but, ironically, their motive for withholding sex is often what provokes them to find sex outside of a committed relationship. Family therapist Winifred Reilly says her experience stresses loneliness and lack of connection as the most common reasons for female adultery.
Connection for a woman can include everything from engaging communication, active listening, feeling sexy (to their partner), and feeling appreciated for the things they do. If a woman doesn’t have the interactions that make her feel noticed, acknowledged, or important, she’ll have an emotional void that will tempt her to lay down with someone who gives her the attention she craves.
But what about men? They get a bad wrap for thinking more with what’s in their pants than with what’s in their head, but experts are finding that it’s their heart that drives them. Dr. Neuman’s research with admitted male cheaters found that 88 percent had slept with women that they considered less attractive than their partner. Even more surprising, only a mere seven percent of men had cheated just to “get laid.” When all was said and done, Neuman concluded the average “sex-crazed” committed male was driven to jump into bed not to satisfy his sexual longings, but to feed his emotional appetite for praise and admiration.
Studies done by relationship guru John Gottman showed that partners content in their relationships shared specific behaviors. The happy couples they observed would soothe each other (even in arguments), they averaged five positive comments about their partner for every one negative comment, and they regularly used the word “we.” And while this doesn’t mean that kissing your partner’s butt and swapping out “me” for “we” are the secret to a successful relationship, the principles underlying them just might be.
The things we think and say about our partner reflect the thoughts and feelings we have toward them. Those same thoughts and feelings are what fuel the actions we take in our relationships. And the use of the word “we” isn’t something for people who are “whipped” or submissive. Saying “we” reflects that we’re in agreement with our partner and we stand united.
Alternatively, if we’re saying “me” or “I” or “he/she” we’re putting distance between ourselves and our significant other. This is a problem because we’re thinking about our own needs instead of the needs of both parties. It’s further problematic because it’s also an indicator of blame. If we see our partner as a problem, more problems will only ensue.
Cheating has no place in love, there’s no doubt about that fact. But people don’t dive into relationships looking for pain—they do it to find love.
Entrusting our hearts to someone puts all of us in a vulnerable place. If we can’t find peace with that, pain and conflict will follow. Cheating may take wrongs to a whole new level, but it seems cheaters hurt just as much as the rest of us.
About the Author
Ash Stevens is a mother, writer, and a wannabe shaman. She loves health, gardening, simplicity, culture, chocolate, and sarcasm. If she isn’t writing or talking family and relationships on her blog, then she’s surely playing badminton with the kids. Find her on Twitter or Facebook and make a new friend!